The Pen….Psychologist’s Couch or Pom-Poms?

20140111-103434.jpgIs it better for a writer to be a therapist for his or her protagonist or for the villain?

Seems like an easy thing to fall into…. you know… be a therapist by harvesting all these juicy emotions and situations where real life turns on its ear and the emotional fall-out needs some sort of silver lining. Savor a bit of that “doctor, heal thyself” mentality. After all, emotional coin is what’s needed to purchase a character’s fleshing-out. You know, pump the air into a flat character.

And We can monitor their development. But we cannot be kind.

Instead we can note how throwing barriers and frustrations against our characters cause them to react and evolve. Yeah. I suppose a therapist is out of the question. Storytellers should be psychologists albeit sadistic ones. Yes? And then the characters clam up when we “pop them on the couch.” Guess they have our number –oh reason number 5 for writer’s block.

How to get the characters talking again… I know. Change of venue…perhaps storytellers do best from hanging out in their villain’s lair knocking back a few drinks with the big bad laughing at the situation the naive/stupid/pretentious protagonist is in and what he/she doesn’t know. Perhaps we, the storytellers can drop in and gossip with the minions to get the drop on what a real mental case they think super-villain is BUT the payout will be better than their meager lives would be otherwise. Maybe we would pop over and commiserate with our protag’s sidekick about how poorly things are going with her friend, Protagonist wonderful, and remind her she may be neglecting her own life. I suspect by the time we get back to our protag we can revel in the feeling of being a two-faced backstabber who is sure to cause conflict on every page.

Does this mean we’re more like scientists not only observing the human equation but holding experiments? Interesting thought. We could invite all the cast to an impromtu happy hour and take note who socializes with who, who avoids who, who confronts who, who flirts with who and who hides in the corner. What happens in no-crap situations like if romantic interest gets hit with the tab or bartender hands villain a box of kittens.

(What would be the takeaway for an exercise like this?) A stronger idea who your characters are, who they want the world to believe they are, what their failings are, what their strengths are, and what the optimal change would be. We’d know how each one would react to disappointment, frustrations, hairy situations AND also how they react to each other. We would have already put thought into why they do what they do. We could inform other storytellers that no one reacts in a vacuum, there are reasons for what the characters are doing for all to see and it doesn’t always jive with what they are feeling inside their skins. (See, this is great for making for external/internal conflict.)

And one more exercise dear social scientist for dissecting the psyche. Have you considered how you have changed in the last year, five years, 10 years. What was your turning point? Your spouse’s? Your parents? Your best friend? Afterall, how your protagonist and other POVs evolve are critical to story so why not grab some real life inspiration?

I’ve been working on various ideas on how to further flesh out my story, make it real, and while the process is exciting I can’t get over the other idea of why stories are important. It isn’t just for the creative outlet but it is to connect with others. I, like many others, want to make an impact, to help/inspire/guide in some way. And that happens if and when we can touch a reader who can relate to our protagonist. Perhaps we can help generate the thought ‘If protagonist extraordinaire could get through xyz then maybe I can too.’ Or perhaps we can generate the desire to do better than protagonist unlucky by causing the reader to think “I can do better than that with my life” by seeing what NOT to do.

So I’m going to wager this — storytellers are not the therapists for society but more like the mentors and cheerleaders (or doomsayers). We find a way to connect without being preachy and we can change the world.

What’s your thoughts?

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2 comments on “The Pen….Psychologist’s Couch or Pom-Poms?

  1. good piece. what I do is load the left brain with lots of information, IE I’ve read a ton of stuff on psychology and history and I still do. Then, I let the right bran out to play. The right brain will creatively connect the dots that make up a character. I always make up a psychological profile for each one before I start.

  2. Thank you Rachel for the feedback. :-). Your way is definitely a good one. I’ve also heard it’s good to load the brain with various other things unrelated with the story because the creative mind will start “gelling” that into story solutions the storyteller may not have thought of earlier.

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